Practical Steps to Minimize Stress as You Begin Your College Prep Journey

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Madeleine Karydes
Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine attended UC Berkeley and double-majored in English and Media Studies. She is now an integral part of the Empowerly team.

Attending college is an exciting next step in a young person’s academic career. However, the process of preparing for that next step could feel overwhelming. Between regular school work and extracurriculars, schedules may already feel jam-packed-even before adding on additional items like SAT and ACT prep. Although avoiding stress is almost impossible, adjusting to how you manage that stress is completely within your control. 

First, it may be helpful to consider the preparations needed for applying to college.

You may already be discussing activities and classwork to round out your schedule — to make you more appealing to a college admissions board. One example you might consider is joining a club or team at school that you feel passionate about. Another example, taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes; either adding more to your schedule depending on what you are excelling in academically, or doing your best to focus on one subject so that you can push yourself to explore an advanced curriculum. 

When you look at your current schedule and what you might highlight to a college admissions board, consider things outside of schoolwork and school extracurriculars. Do you have a part-time job? Do you volunteer in your town or take on a special role in your family, like taking care of an elderly family member? In addition to what happens in high school, college admission boards want to know about your life. Taking a step back from your day-to-day to consider ALL that you are doing that may be impressive to a college admissions team might help you gain perspective on ALL that you have to offer. Knowing your accomplishments and identifying areas where you want to grow in preparation for the college application process sooner will help you feel more comfortable and less stressed as the application process continues. 

Next, it would be helpful to think about your schedule holistically. In addition to the day-to-day and priority activities we just discussed, you may want to consider preparing for the admissions tests you will need to take.

As you likely know, the SAT and/or ACT are standardized tests that can feel daunting to prepare for. Where do you start, and what do you need to focus on? You might be thinking: I take tests all the time, I love math, these will be easy for me, I just need to sign up. And while that may be true for some people, most people find it’s helpful to prepare for these tests. Preparing for these tests can look like studying the materials you’re learning in school and refreshing your memory on key subjects from previous years of school. However, it may also be learning the format of the test, what the sections entail, the allotted time you have for each section, and other strategies that exist to help you manage the test atmosphere. 

If you’re a sophomore or junior, you may want to consider courses you can take to help you learn more about the tests themselves and the material that will be on them. You may also want to plan ahead and sign up for multiple test dates so that you have the opportunity to take the test, learn from that experience, and retake the test at a later date. It’s important to remember that all test scores do get counted and averaged if they are official tests, which is why it’s better to first take practice tests. Planning ahead for college admissions tests, and giving yourself enough time to prepare for them by studying and retaking the tests if needed, can help you relieve the stress that will occur as application deadlines get closer. 

Last, start to consider the longer term.

The college application process is an exciting one, wherein you have the opportunity to tell your unique story. The sooner you start thinking about topics you may want to write about, the more time you will have to consider your story and evolve it into the essay you feel most proud about sharing. You may need to prepare to write about more than one topic depending on the schools you are applying to. You may also have many drafts of each essay before you create a draft you feel best about sharing. 

And, you may want to look at the adults and mentors you have in your life. Is there a school counselor, coach, or teacher you trust who can read your essay and give you feedback? If so, ask for that help earlier than when you need it so that you can start to share your ideas and workshop them into the story you feel most proud about sharing. Knowing that there may be many drafts and keeping that perspective in check as you start to work through your topics can help you keep the right frame of mind. 

One additional thought to consider as you dive into managing the stress of preparing for college is acknowledging that this IS stressful. College is a big deal, it’s an exciting next step, and it’s an opportunity to put the hard work you’ve put into your personal development into practice. It’s also the next step that many of your peers are taking along with you. As a result, some of their stress and anxiety may make its way over to you. Before it does, prepare yourself by identifying and focusing on your accomplishments, planning ahead for the application requirements, and leaving yourself time to retake tests or rewrite applications.

Here are some additional preparation resources to help you navigate the college prep process successfully. 

To learn more about preparing for college, including stress management, connect with an Empowerly team member. Our team of experienced professionals is dedicated to helping students and families prepare for academics after high school and can help support you too. Reach out to connect with an Empowerly team member today. 

Questions? Let us know!